Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine is the best known of the Muscadet appellations of the Loire Valley's Pays Nantais district, on the central western coast of France. The title covers exclusively white wines from vineyards around the Sevre and Maine rivers – minor tributaries of the Loire which converge just outside Nantes. The wines are made from Melon de Bourgogne, a grape variety brought to the western Loire Valley from Burgundy, as the name suggests. The similarity between the name Muscadet and that of the Muscat grape family is sometimes the cause of confusion, but a single taste of a crisp, dry Muscadet wine will confirm that it is definitely not made from Muscat grapes.
The Sevre-et-Maine area – after which the appellation is named – lies just south-east of Nantes. It is a heavily planted zone, with around 22,250 acres (9000ha) of vineyards producing on average more than 11 million gallons (420,000hL) of wine in every vintage.
About 80% of all Muscadet wine is made here, as the terroir is ideally suited to its production. A combination of volcanic, metamorphic and alluvial soils has led to an abundance of potassium, magnesium and calcium, providing the vines with the minerals they require for optimal growth. Furthermore, in the wet maritime climate of the western Loire Valley it is vital for the vineyards to have efficient drainage; this is provided by the chalky limestone soils and gravels of Sevre-et-Maine. The presence of clay, however – particularly close to the local rivers – creates variability in the drainage speed, so site selection is important. Unfortunately, not all Muscadet vignerons have been sufficiently discerning in their choice of vineyard locations, leading to the creation of large volumes of less-interesting wine.
Melon de Bourgogne is not a particularly flavorful grape variety, so without care in the vineyard and attentive winemaking, Muscadet wines can risk being rather bland and featureless. This is particularly true in hotter vintages, when the intense heat robs the grapes of potential complexity and their characteristic acidity. On the flipside of that coin, the Loire has one of the wettest, coldest growing seasons in France, so the growers' goal is more often full ripeness than acid retention. To glean as much flavor and character from the grape must as possible, many Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine wines are left sur lie ('on the lees') for a period of several weeks or even months. This extended contact with the lees imparts a richer, creamier mouthfeel to the wines and contributes to the general flavor profile. Each of the four Muscadet appellations is made in both standard and sur lie variants.
A good Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine wine has subtle apple and citrus aromas, sometimes dressed with gentle hints of pepper and even a slight salinity evocative of the Nantais' maritime location. The best examples also have a certain underlying minerality, often thought to be a reflection of the chalky soils that characterize the best Muscadet vineyards.